For the study, female volunteers were asked to smell either fresh oranges or chocolate. They were then asked to write about memories triggered by the smell of the foods. After smelling the foods, participants could help themselves to chocolate, cereal bars and oranges.
The findings revealed that women who were dieting to lose weight ate 60% less of the chocolate after smelling fresh oranges compared to smelling chocolate. On the other hand, non-dieters ate similar amounts regardless of the food they were exposed to before snacking.
In another experiment, participants were shown food or non-food images on a computer screen while they completed an ongoing distracter task. When given the opportunity to eat a variety of sweet and salty snack foods, dieters who were shown healthy food images age less than dieters who were exposed to non-food items like office equipment.
Besides seeing and smelling, eating healthy foods can also help dieters cut back on the number of calories consumed in an evening meal since the healthy food serves to remind the dieter of their diet goal and promotes feelings of fullness for longer.
In a third experiment, participants were either given a salad, garlic bread or water. Afterwards, participants were offered pizza as a main meal. They found that despite the salad and garlic bread being the same amount of calories, female dieters ate less over the two courses if they ate the salad appetizer compared to an appetizer of garlic bread or water.
Many people who are trying to lose weight experience difficulty adhering to diet plans when faced with the temptation to eat energy dense foods. However, healthy foods associated with diets, like salads and fruits, may remind dieters of their long-term weight-loss and self-control goals, according to researchers.
Researchers said the latest study might have implications for diet strategies.
"When tempted by food, dieters should take a few moments to focus on the sensory properties of healthy food, such as the sight and smell of fruit or salad vegetables. Such healthy food cues can provide an instant reminder to dieters to regulate their intake," researcher Nicola Buckland of the University of Leeds said in a news release.
Researchers suggest that "increasing the presence of healthy foods in places where overeating is most likely to happen, such as the fridge, kitchen cupboards and on the desk at work, may help remind dieters to limit their food intake."
Buckland said even when away from home, dieters can resist temptation by eating a piece of fruit or baby carrots.